April 16, 2014

Lead the Change: Preparing Today’s Leaders for Tomorrow’s Challenges

ljx120801webSchwartz Lead the Change: Preparing Today’s Leaders for Tomorrow’s Challenges

In 2004, David Bendekovic began developing a program to help shape leaders who could handle the rapid changes and challenges confronting the library world. It was based on research conducted at the Leadership Institute at Syracuse University, NY, where Bendekovic was program director. The first workshop was held on October 7, 2005, at the Ohio Library Council annual conference.

Over the years, Bendekovic offered the workshops to libraries all over the United States, Canada, and even Australia. More than 4,000 participants from more than 1000 libraries have participated in the one-day program, and in the process, says Bendekovic, they’ve contributed to what later became known as “Lead The Change” itself:  today, the content is based on eight years of research and their real-world input,” he says.  “And as we travel across the country we continue to gather more examples of what great libraries do every day.”

In 2011, Bendekovic and his consulting firm, The B. A. David Company, teamed up with LJ to offer the Lead The Change leadership workshop series.  LJ’s 550 Movers and Shakers and staff from libraries honored as LJ Library of the Year have formed the core of the real-world library leaders who serve as examples and guest speakers at the workshops.

What the leaders learn

John F. Szabo, then director of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, hosted and spoke at a Lead the Change event in Atlanta on April 19, attended by staff members from the system, among others. After the workshop, many staffers approached him and told him it had “caused them to evaluate their specific role and how it affects where the library system is moving,” Szabo tells LJ. “That can be a challenge in a large system like ours, to take 30 steps back and look at the big picture. Many of them also took a moment not only to look at the present landscape and look forward but also to look back and see how important and substantive their previous contributions have been.”

Szabo says Lead the Change helped meet another need in the Atlanta-Fulton system. “We need more staff in our public libraries who have ambition and are not afraid to see themselves in leadership roles,” he says. Lead the Change encourages staff members to think of themselves in that way and helps them take ownership of the library’s role in addressing social issues like ­unemployment.

Yet Lead the Change isn’t only for creating new library leaders; it can also work for experienced ones. Alison Circle of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH, who spoke at the Columbus Lead the Change, says thatmost of the Columbus attendees were already in management positions, but they definitely weren’t bored. “People were energized,” she says. “The audience was very engaged and felt there was real value in what they were covering. It was very hands on.”

Lead the Change helped inspire Szabo himself to suggest an internal leadership program modeled on programs like Leadership Atlanta. It would take a cohort of library staff who are interested in careers in management and introduce them to “a really in-depth view of all the areas, corners, and dimensions of our library system.” Szabo won’t be in Atlanta long enough to see such a program implemented, however, since he’s accepted the position of Los Angeles City Librarian, beginning August 20. That doesn’t mean his experience of Lead the Change is over. He hopes to host Lead the Change again in L.A., he says.

Leading library-style

“A lot of people talk about how ‘we need to run this place like a business,’ but I don’t believe that, because I’ve seen a lot of businesses that don’t do well,” Bendekovic says. “The thing we hear the most is that people appreciate that Lead the Change is not a business leadership course. We apply the principles of leadership, but the examples we show them are Libraries of the Year; we’re not trying to apply a business model to the library.”

A hallmark of Lead the Change is a personal action planner that participants fill out throughout the day, so that when they go back to their libraries they have a plan ready to go.

The program is structured as a one-day workshop for 100 people, broken into six segments of 45 minutes. There’s a ten-minute “time out” between segments for attendees to move around, network, and write down takeaways. The group stays together rather than fragmenting into separate breakout sessions, but within that structure there are group discussions and individual activities.

Bringing the change home

LJ also caught up with several past workshop attendees to hear how they implemented what they learned at Lead the Change when they got back to their libraries.

Cindy Mediavilla, who attended the Cerritos, CA, workshop, teaches at UCLA’s library school, and as a freelance consultant she’s also overseeing a project at the Los Angeles Public Library to groom leaders from among the ranks of middle management as well as recent MLS graduates via a mentorship-based residency program. Mediavilla says, “I loved the leadership orientation inventory. That is something I will definitely use with my students.”

Tamora LeBeau, assistant library director, Livermore Public Library, CA, also focused on the idea of different leadership styles as a strength, not a weakness, as a takeaway. “Thinking about different skill sets in my staff and their different leadership orientations helps me to understand their approaches to an issue better, even if their approach might be different from mine, and to know that our differences can help us be stronger as an organization,” she says.

For Catherine Hany, communications director of Pasadena Public Library, CA, the most important takeaway from Lead the Change is “you don’t need a title to be a leader, you can be a leader from any position in our library,” she says. “To remember that the best ideas might come from a page or a tech, so you’ve got to listen to everyone.” For Julie Whitt, human resources manager of the Upper Arlington Public Library, OH, it is “you can’t be everything to everybody,” something she says other local libraries reported struggling with as well. Since Lead the Change, she says, “We’ve had some conversations about how do we figure out what we’re the best at and what our customers really want and focus on those things.”

Debbie Centi, youth services, Folsom Public Library (FPL), CA, provides the most concrete example of a new initiative inspired by Lead the Change. “We felt information shared in Session 5, “Position the Library in the Mind of the Community,” could directly, and positively, impact our Summer Reading programs and increase library visibility in the community right away,” she says. The library contacted local merchants Sleep Train and Bed Bath and Beyond and asked if they would provide a bed and bedding in exchange for advertising signage and turned them into a “Between the Covers” lobby display on summer reading in bed. FPL also partnered with Fast Signs, a local sign company, to create 1300 signs that read, A Folsom Public Library Star Lives Here! Funded by the Friends of the Library, the signs reward anyone who completes the Summer Reading program. Centi sums up, “An immediate increased community awareness of our library has been a direct result of our attendance at the Lead the Change workshop!”

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Senior Editor, News and Features of Library Journal.

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